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I WOKE UP on the couch the next morning. It was like coming out of a fever dream. At first, I wasn't sure if I was awake or still dreaming, like I was peering out through stained glass. The earth moved beneath me like a ship on calm water, rising and falling over gentle swells—a sea right before the storm. A voice drifted in from the kitchen, distant and muffled.

I slowly pushed myself to a sitting position, propping my body up with my elbows. My ankle pulsed in pain. I grimaced, wondering how I'd ever managed to fall asleep in the first place. Exhaling heavily through my nose, I leaned forward and pulled back the leg of my torn and blood-stained jeans to examine the injury. The dark red splotches on the gauze had grown over night. They'd now dried to almost black, and a thin yellow crust surrounded them. My ankle throbbed in pain as the bandage squeezed the swollen flesh. I breathed in heavily a few times, trying to settle the nausea churning in my stomach.

I needed to see it.

Slowly, I peeled back the stained gauze. A bit of semi-dried blood pulled away with the bandage, sticking to it and stretching out into a gelatinous strand like drool from a dog. Teeth marks punctured the skin, surrounded by inflamed red flesh. My leg glistened with clear weeping fluid from the lacerations. Blood trickled out of the two deeper cuts, but they weren't as severe as I'd feared from how painful it was and the amount it'd been bleeding last night. The fabric of my jeans must have protected me from a lot of the puncture force. The amount of bruising concerned me, however. Along with the swelling, deep black and blue marks surrounded the bite.

I rewrapped the bandage a bit looser to accommodate the swollen flesh. A chill ran through my body, and cold sweat lined my brow. My mouth and tongue were dry cotton. I needed water.

I leaned back on my hands and rotated my body to shift my legs to the side of the couch, preparing to stand up. The voice drifted in from the kitchen again. Jeremey. Who was he talking to?

I placed weight on my good leg and carefully stood up. Balancing myself on the arm of the burgundy couch, I tested my other foot. I touched the toe to the floor first and slowly added pressure. As soon as I put my heel down, searing pain shot through my entire leg, and sweat dripped from my forehead. I shivered.

I worried there might be more damage than the cuts, perhaps deeper tissue bruising from the force of the jaws. I knew I should go to the hospital and get it checked out, for the risk of infection alone if nothing else, but for some reason I felt like I couldn't. There was no hospital in Millstone. The nearest hospital was in Hammonton which was a 30 minute drive away. Going to the hospital would be like putting a finger in your belly button and twisting until the left over bit of the umbilical cord unwound and your entire body unraveled into a bloody spiral of organs and intestines.

The fear was inexplicable and irrational, but it was there all the same.

I couldn't go. I couldn't leave.

I needed water.

Careful not to place too much weight on my bad leg, I slowly limped into the kitchen.

Jeremey leaned with his back against the light blue laminate island countertop in the center of the room. His phone was pressed to his ear, and he was looking away from me, out the white-washed door that led to the dead backyard. All the grass had dried up over the winter, and since the groundhog had seen the shadow of a devil rather than his own on February second, winter had decided to go on indefinitely rather than last only another six weeks.

Everything in Millstone was dead.

"Cool," Jeremey said lowly into the phone. "Thanks man. I owe you." A pause. "Okay, Tuesday, got it."

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